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Sunday 25 March 2018

Councillors zone enough land to build homes for three million

Paul Melia, Edel Kennedy and Fiach Kelly

THERE is enough land zoned in Ireland to build homes for over three million extra people -- equal to two-thirds of the current population.

An Irish Independent investigation today reveals there is enough zoned land to build over a million homes -- or 22 years' supply in a normal market.

But councillors continue to allow would-be developers to turn fields into landbanks, even in a stalled housing market.

One-third of the toxic property loans going into NAMA are linked to land, meaning that the taxpayer could be stuck with €20bn of loans linked to fields that may never be developed.

The huge oversupply also casts doubt on the ability of the 'bad bank' to turn a profit or break even.

Based on an annual need of 50,000 homes a year in a normal market, there is enough land to meet demand for housing until at least 2031.

A staggering 38,000 hectares of land could now lie undeveloped for decades to come -- presenting a major headache for the taxpayer. The Irish Independent has found:

  • There are currently 1.46 million homes in the country, but enough zoned land for 1.1 million more houses and apartments to be built.
  • Based on the fact that Irish homes have an average of 2.75 occupants, the zoning provides for enough extra housing to accommodate more than three million people.

The figures call into question the principle of the State's bad bank offering long-term values of 10 years on these landbanks, especially as the property market has stalled and few people are buying homes.

But some councils are still zoning land for residential purposes and making drafts of their development plans obsolete weeks after they are finalised.

A senior planner in the north of the country said: "We had a plan two weeks ago but the council keep adding more . . . against our wishes."

While not all the land is serviced, in many cases the taxpayer has also invested hundreds of millions of euro providing roads, sewage treatment plants, power lines and drinking water. These are investments which are unlikely to be used for years.

New planning guidelines due out next month suggest that, in a low-growth scenario, the country's population will rise by 953,200 people to 5,375,200 by 2022. But there is enough land zoned for housing to accommodate three times this population surge.

Under new laws, Environment Minister John Gormley will oversee a radical change in the country's planning system.

Councils will be allowed to rezone land from residential back to agricultural use if there is an over-supply. But they will not be allowed zone land which does not meet national planning guidelines.


But oversupply already exists on a massive scale. Donegal, with a population of 147,000, has enough zoned land for 92,491 houses or 250,000 people. Meath, with a population of 162,000, has enough zoned land for 318,205 more people.

Last year an acre of agricultural land in Meath cost €20,000 while development land would have cost €200,000.

One local auctioneer said: "Agriculture is about €8,000 to €10,000 an acre now, but there really is no market for development land."

A Department of Finance spokesman said NAMA "will only take on loans it sees it can realise over 10 years"

"If there's that amount of land, it doesn't mean NAMA will take it on. There is a discretionary part to this," he added.

Irish Independent

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